“For us, cycling is a religion”. And the Tour of Flanders the day of communion for an entire people. Sunday, the “Ronde” will be the scene of an exceptional fervor which makes this monument of cycling so special in the eyes of runners and followers.
The local media ensure that each year a million spectators gather along the 273 kilometers of a course strewn with nineteen cobbled mountains (the “berg”) transformed into as many stadiums. Or almost one in six Flemings.
These astronomical statistics are difficult to verify but according to the authorities they are not very far from reality.
The route, which loops through the provinces of West and East Flanders, is suitable for short trips. It’s easy to see the runners pass by before going to your living room or a party room to experience the end of the race in front of a screen.
The Quaremont, which the riders will cross three times (in addition to the passage of the women’s race), the last time 17 kilometers from the line, will alone welcome 40,000 fanatics along the 2200 meters of ascent. Five thousand of these aficionados will pay their place to be sure to attend the first rows to the fight that will not fail to engage in particular Wout Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar.
The organizer Flanders Classics is selling 10,000 VIP tickets ensuring their holder, often businessmen, to be transported to a strategic place where they will talk business or remake the world around a champagne buffet.
“We put these places on sale in October and early December, everything is gone, notes Thomas Van der Spiegel, former international basketball player and CEO of Flanders Classic. Many Belgian and foreign companies want to be part of it. It’s the race of the year”.
— “Logistics miracle” —
Before giving way to the pros, thousands of amateurs take part in the Fan Ride. Those who wish can actually complete the last hundred terminals of the race on the closed circuit.
Le Ronde is also a ratings success for Belgian television, Sporza on the Dutch-speaking side, RTBF for French-speaking people, which have nearly two million viewers in a country with eleven million inhabitants.
Public television VRT, which provides the broadcast, is counting on an army of nearly 300 people to make the event an extraordinary audiovisual spectacle.
Five cameras at Old Kwaremont, four at Paterberg, four at Koppenberg and five at the finish in Audenaerde in addition to the three motorbikes and the helicopter.
Live from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., director Gunther Herregodts must “make sure he eats and drinks” because he “doesn’t have time to go to the toilet”, he told the daily La Dernier Heure. “This race is a logistical miracle,” he said.
Popular success, the Ronde obviously attracts politicians in search of visibility. On Saturday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo appears on three pages in The Last Hour where he proclaims his love for two wheels. In 2017, it was the mayor (friend) of Antwerp who had pulled off a masterstroke by attracting the start of the race to his city for five years when the Ronde traditionally started from Bruges.
The Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever had understood the impact of the event in view of his independence ambitions by getting his hands on this identity symbol.
Five years later, the Ronde is back in Bruges, on its traditional grounds. What does it matter for the nationalists who will continue to distribute along the roads this flag bearing the black lion (on a yellow background) symbol of their claims.